People have long wondered and worried about the dangers of food dye and preservatives in food, but a recent study in a British medical journal called The Lancet offers some proof (you can go to the site, but need to be a paid subscriber to read the study: www.thelancet.com). Not a huge surprise to learn that a variety of common food dyes and the preservative sodium benzoate -- both found in plenty of soda, fruit juice and salad dressing -- can make kids distractable and hyperactive. That's exactly how I feel after a glass of coke.
For the study, a professor of psychology at England's University of Southampton, Jim Stevenson, put 300 kids in two age groups, 3 year olds and 8-9 year olds. For three one-week periods the kids were randomly told to consume one of three fruit drinks daily -- one with a typical amount of sodium benzoate, a second with a lower concentration of additives, and a third with no additives at all. Teachers and parents who were unaware of which drink the kids were getting then evaluated their behavior in terms of restlessness, lack of concentration, fidgeting, and talking or interrupting too much.
What Stevenson found was that the kids in both of the age groups who were drinking the additives were significantly more hyperactive, and that the 3 year old group had a bigger response to the lower doses of additives. Stevenson said the differences weren't enough to diagnose Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but enough to make the benefits of school more challenging.
Of course it's not very hard to figure out which drinks are the culprits, they're usually brightly colored and if that isn't enough of a tip off, they also print a (required) list of ingredients on their side.
Although most baby foods don't include additives and preservatives, be sure to read the labels to make sure they're safe. The Food Standards Agency suggests you steer clear of the following artificial colors, a few of which are found in infant medicines:
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